burton-up on-trent

Wedgwood Pottery In Stoke-on-Trent

In order to examine the chronological link between the development of Wedgwood’s pottery and the building of the Trent and Mersey Canal. It is therefore necessary to investigate the background into both Josiah Wedgwood and the development of the Canal.

Josiah Wedgwood was one of the most skilled potters of his time in Stoke on Trent. He was born in 1730 in the village of Burslem, in Staffordshire. By the age of nine, he was proving himself to be a skilled potter. Later in life, he became an apprentice under his brother, Thomas, and learned many of the modern skills required for ceramics. By the mid-1750s, Josiah was trying to form partnerships to build up a factory. In 1754, he made a partnership with Thomas Whieldon, and they started making pots in Stoke-on-Trent.

The date of Wedgwood’s partnership with Whieldon coincides with the dates of the first known plans to build a canal between the River Mersey and the River Trent. The first plans for the waterway were put together in 1755. These plans never followed through because of later plans that were thought to be better. Lord Gower, a local businessman, and brother-in-law of the Duke of Bridgewater drew up a plan for the Trent and Mersey Canal. If his plan had gone ahead in 1760, this would have been the first canal ever constructed in England. James Brindley, the engineer behind a lot of the canals in England did his first canal work on the Trent and Mersey, though his first job in charge of construction was on the Bridgewater Canal.

In 1761, Josiah Wedgwood showed an interest in the construction of a canal through Stoke on Trent, as part of his business depended on the safe and smooth transport of his pots. By road, pots were liable to be damaged and broken. A canal near to his factory would provide fast and safe transport for his wares. Wedgwood’s plan was not to connect the two rivers by canal, but to connect the potteries to the River Mersey, and thereafter the port at Ellesmere. “As a burgeoning industrialist, Wedgwood was a major backer of the Trent and Mersey Canal dug between the River Trent and River Mersey….” (A quote taken from a short Biography of Josiah Wedgwood: )

There was much debate about possible routes that a canal could take. Coal merchants in Liverpool felt threatened about a canal that could bring coal in from Cheshire. The owners of the River Weaver Navigation were also not happy about the proposals, because the route would almost parallel that of the river. Yet another route was published, which much to the shock of Wedgwood, did not at all include the potteries.

Wedgwood showed that he valued the idea of having a canal to the potteries by managing to send his proposal to parliament, with the help of two of his friends, Thomas Bentley, and Dr. Erasmus Darwin. John Gilbert’s plan for the “Grand Trunk” canal met opposition at the eastern end, where in Burton on Trent, the locals objected to the canal passing parallel to the upper Trent navigation. In 1764, Wedgwood managed to convince Gilbert to include the Potteries in his route. This again shows how important the canal link was for Wedgwood. “On July 26th a massive celebration was held in the Potteries where Josiah Wedgwood cut the first sod of soil. James Brindley was employed as engineer and work got under way.” (A quote from Canals, Routes and Roots, The Trent and Mersey Canal, by Peter Hardcastle )

Six years before the complete opening of the Trent and Mersey Canal, in 1771, Wedgwood built the factory village of Etruria on the outskirts of Stoke on Trent. By this time, a lot of the canal had been built towards Ellesmere Port. The only obstacle that still had to be tackled by the canal company was the hill at Kidsgrove, through which a tunnel was being dug. Up until 1777, pots had to be carried on the short journey from Etruria, over the top of Kidsgrove Hill, and to the other side, where the canal had been constructed to Ellesmere Port.

The development of Wedgwood’s Pottery factory in Etruria, and his insistence on a link being built between the potteries and the Mersey give conclusive evidence that there is a connection between the development of the canal, and the development of the potteries.

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